Monday, April 18, 2016
More on Slave Hiring
Earlier today I finished reading "Reading Wolves to Our Own Destruction": Slavery in Richmond, Virginia, 1782-1865, by Midori Takagi (University Press of Virginia, 1999). In this well researched book, the author explores the urban landscape of slavery and how it tested the traditional sense of the "peculiar institution." With many owners allowing their slaves to find their own employment in the city's numerous factories, make their own living arrangements, and do overwork for cash payments, the city version of slavery was often markedly different than that of rural plantation slavery.
In some respect though, other qualities of urban slavery mirrored that of the countryside. Slave hiring occurred on both plantations and in cities such as Richmond. As part of her evidence of the large number of slaves rented for city work, Takagi quoted a short notice from the January 3, 1853, Richmond Daily Dispatch (shown above). I located the article via the "Chronicling America" newspaper database from the Library of Congress.
As one can see, slave hiring helped fuel Richmond's antebellum economy. These individuals provided vital labor and as the notice shows, "Thousands of dollars changed hands." Most of that money went to the slaves' owners, and depending on the master, slaves may or may not have had much say in where they went to work or what type of labor they performed.
In this particular issue of the Daily Dispatch, the claims made by this little notice were supported with numerous advertisements posted by individual citizens and hiring agents, both seeking and offering their slaves for hire. The practice of slave hiring goes to show that although slave owners were a minority in the antebellum South, many more people other than just owners had a large stake in the perpetuation of the institution.